Okay, so I just got my Bollywood cherry popped! Sure, I’ve seen bits of various movies, and a few individual dance numbers here and there, but never a whole movie, beginning to end. This was a great movie, every bit as catchy, gorgeous and deliciously over-the-top as I expected.
This is a tale of jealousy and vengeance from beyond the grave. In Guru Amma’s ‘Kingdom of Queens’, Mukta is the best dancer and the favourite of Amma. She and the other girls earn their keep by dancing and singing at weddings, births and other ceremonies, entertaining the outside world that rejected them. But one day Nandini, a teenage girl with a mysterious past, shows up out the blue. Angelically beautiful, with a gentle heart, Nandini is a phenomenal dancer, outshining Mukta on her very first tryout. Worse, she is unconditionally adored by Amma and the other hijras. They all want to dance like her (and not like Mukta), ignore their duties, give her little gifts, and Amma herself gives her a pair of jewelled anklets, gorgeous even by this movie’s standards. In anger, Mukta sets fire to her hijra outfit and storms out wearing her old teenage boy clothes (which miraculously still fit her after 15 years).
After wandering around a bit and almost visiting her family (Mukta’s mother still misses her son terribly, but her father will not even look at her), she returns to Guru Amma, somewhat humbled but still not ready to love Nandini. She concocts a scheme to make Nandini leave the Kingdom by setting her up with a talent agent she met in her wandering, who’s always looking for good dancers. If Nandini does well she’ll be an international star, and peace will return to Amma’s kingdom. Win-win!
Unfortunately the talent agent is a sleaze, and after Mukta leaves he tries to put the moves on Nandini. She resists, they fight, and she accidentally dies. For the next couple days Mukta—already guilty for deceiving Nandini—is haunted by visions of Nandini’s lovely anklets (which is a lot creepier than it sounds, and the SFX were pretty good), until Nandini’s bloodstained shawl is discovered, followed by Nandini’s body. Mukta, now out of her mind with grief and guilt, publicly confesses, and is confronted with the ghost of Nandini which no one else can see. Nandini forces her to dance, all up and down the courtyard, over and over, even as Mukta begs for mercy. Then Guru Amma—who somehow had figured out that Nandini is her niece, though I forget how exactly—also begs for forgiveness, and Nandini lets go. Mukta falls down dead, and the Kingdom now has two sisters to grieve for.
So… that was fun! This was way different from anything I’ve seen before, and I can’t compare it to any other Bollywood movie, so all I know is that I loved it! It had energy, amazing visuals, a compelling story, and some beautiful dance numbers. Not as many as I expected, though, so that was a bit of a disappointment.
One audience member who does know her Bollywood didn’t think much of it, though. It was deadly earnest and depressing, similar to old-timey Hollywood gay movies, where the gay characters are all destined to die in the end. Here, the Queens are destined only to dance and entertain, facilitating other people’s love but never enjoying it themselves. Which as I understand it is how they’re traditionally supposed to live their lives. But aren’t traditions meant to be broken? If you’re going to have the characters demand respect from bigots and even fight back against bashers, you might as well go all the way and fight against repressive traditions as well.
Which is fair enough, and leaves me a bit conflicted about the movie. But only a bit. Most of me is in it for the dance.